Parte 7

Snooping through someone’s computer is a quick way to make an enemy out of a friend, but I somehow justified my decision. Out of all the confusing and traumatic things Evelyn and I have witnessed, my invasion into her posts isn’t quite as bad as … well, murder, was it?

First, I think you all need to know: it’s been a couple of days now, and I haven’t heard from my coworker at all. It’s almost as if she’s dropped off the face of the earth. I’ve been handling this radio station on my own, and things haven’t been as … weird as they usually are. There was no crying from the sink, no freaky-looking bird outside the window, no fog. However, I was still uneasy, as the police were almost always present on their search in the woods, looking for that girl’s body. The fact that they couldn’t find it, even in the light of day, gave me this sinking feeling that Jennifer was out there somewhere, moved or hidden. Or maybe devoured. Who knows?

I saw the same officer from the day they dragged two bodies out of the woods, taking Evelyn with them. She looked just as stern and just as u nfriendly as before, but at least she allowed me to ask her a question. I simply asked her when, and if, she expected Evelyn to be done doing her part in this case. I hoped my role as the ‘concerned trainee’ would convince her to give me an estimate on when I might see her again, especially after I pressed that I was having some difficulties adjusting to the sudden full-time position. Guilt-tripping a cop isn’t something I would advise.

“Can’t be sure of that,” she said matter-of-factly. “Depends on how well she cooperates. We can’t question her yet, though. Had to let her go in for medical treatment first.” She refused to elaborate any further.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. Evelyn didn’t look her healthiest, but I somehow doubted she would have agreed to a hospital stay in the middle of all this mess. No, I feel there’s something else going on. That, coupled with all of the unexplainable things we had seen and my curiosity for what she had witnessed on the days I was gone, prompted me to look around her computer whenever I had some free time.

Now I know she was hiding a few things from me. More than a few things, really. Her thoughts seem scattered, documents filled with revisions and half-written bits of her daily experiences, but it still looks like she’s avoiding the follow-through on so many thoughts. It was cloudy in the early afternoon as I ate a late lunch, throwing away half of what was in the fridge that Evelyn hadn’t touched, and committed to reading all of her prior posts.

The stone, the crying woman on the phone, that thing in the fog … I almost can’t believe how much she was hiding from me. And yet, I have this feeling that too much of this is personal. I should have stopped there, but I didn’t. I’m ashamed to admit that my curiosity got the better of me and I looked at her internet history. It was a lot of this. This website and her posts, I mean. It seems as if she dedicates most of her time to writing, but there were a couple of other things: a Facebook page, notably. The rest looked like the product of boredom - clickbait articles, dumb quizzes, a google search for mountain birds.

I told myself I would visit the Facebook page for just long enough to check my own, not expecting hers to still be open. Apparently she hadn’t logged herself out at all, because the moment the page finally loaded after a long lapse of inactivity, there were unchecked notifications on the screen. There were so many that it seemed like Evelyn hadn’t read through them in weeks, and she posted even less.

Much of the content on her profile belonged to other people. Some relative of hers, maybe a great aunt, asked: “How have you been?”, which she never responded to. A young woman tagged her in a post with several others calling for a group hang-out sometime, which she didn’t react to at all. And then, there was an entire library of tagged photos… Photos other people had taken.

I admit that I smiled at first looking through them. They must have been from last summer, because Evelyn’s hair was shorter and she had a sunburn across her nose mixing in with some major sun-induced freckling. There were pictures from a college graduation ceremony, featuring her with all of her friends and professors. She was smiling widely, grinning with all her teeth, looking bright. The last graduation photo was of her and a familiar woman, making faces at the camera. It was Jennifer. As I continued looking through, I saw Jennifer a lot more often, mostly on photos she had taken. “Lyn and I went hiking today”, “Moving day with Lynny”, “Evelyn and Jenny: couch-lifting champions”.

Then, there was a dark and blurry photo. It was the first of many. Someone had posted an album tagging Evelyn and at least fifteen other people, full of pictures from the woods. My smile started to disappear. Seeing that forest and the blurry faces of strangers, most of them drunk or in clouds of smoke, made the photos seem ghostly. Then, I saw her again. Evelyn was in the background of a few photos, sometimes so small that I had to pay an awful lot of attention to see her. She was smiling in one or two, talking in another, and then one photo in particular chilled me right to my very core.

Evelyn was at the edge of a group, as if pulled into a photo while passing by. But my coworker was pale, eyes wide and glowing from the reflection of the camera flash, and her face was stuck in a grim look of terror. It was clear something had happened. She had seen something she didn’t want to see. I couldn’t get away from the photo faster, and so I skipped forward again and again. She was in almost every picture, holding a cup in her hand each time, and I watched the progression from that scared, tired look to near-unconsciousness as two friends were holding her up in the background. Either she was drugged, completely wasted, or both. And then, her and Jennifer both disappeared from the remaining photos, leaving no trace behind.

I regret lingering so long on the photos, because my online status - or rather, Evelyn’s online status - had caught someone’s attention. I saw the blip of an instant message, and the chat automatically popped up at the corner of the screen. Reading her messages was the ultimate betrayal of any kind of privacy, but I couldn’t refuse just a small peek.

Evelyn, if you’re reading this sometime from now, I hope you don’t kill me for this.

I scrolled through. It was a person I hadn’t seen, though Jennifer was one of two faces in his profile photo. It didn’t matter, as he made his purpose as the go-between very clearly through a flood of at least twenty unanswered messages over the course of a month. His name was Elijah.

April 2nd: “Hey Lynny. Can we talk?” … April 5th: “Where are you staying? Are you getting help?” … April 18th: “Jen has been asking about you a lot. She really wishes you’d unblock her.” … April 23rd: “Evelyn, please.” … And just now: “Lyn? Hello?”

As I scrolled upwards, I found the first message that started it all. It was on the first of the month, April Fool’s Day.

“Hey Evelyn. Jen told me what happened. I hope you get well soon, but please, take it easy from now on. She can’t babysit you just to make sure you don’t drown in the tub.You know if you need some help, they’ve got anonymous programs for that, right? You should look into it. Jen cares about you, but she preferred you when you were sober.”

Another red bubble. There were more messages waiting below. I was hesitant but still curious as I scrolled downward, finding that Elijah had left a handful of short, aggressive messages just seconds ago.

“Answer me. Where’s my girlfriend? You know, don’t you?”

“Evelyn, I know you’re reading this.”

He was typing again, and seconds later, another message appeared.

“They all die on that mountain. Every single one.”

I closed out of the browser and slammed the laptop shut as quickly as I possibly could. His words struck me instantly with this sudden fear that if I had stayed on that page, I would have seen and read far more than I wanted to. They all die, he said. Who is ‘they’? The people who worked here before? Hikers? Climbers? I’m still not sure if his words were a threat or a concern.

I’m no detective, but I’m worried that nothing here is coincidental. I know my coworker will read this and I’m sorry to her in advance, but I just can’t pretend that all of this doesn’t fit together somehow.

Evelyn, if you’re reading this, I hope you can remember what you saw that night in the woods.

I was going to post this earlier, stopping where I did above, but I’m glad I chose not to. It’s evening now as I put this down and something has happened outside the radio station.

I’m realizing the full weight of working around the clock. There’s boredom, especially being alone, and a tension that has been putting me on edge. I was fitted for a hearing aid, which I received just a day or two earlier, and somehow being able to hear decently from both ears again made the silence even more daunting. That and, I’ve noticed a faint sting in that ear since I came back to the station.

I gave the evening news and prepared for another thirty-minute block of music. With time to spare and no real interest in trying to hear any muffled bits of music through the headphones, I paced around the room and took a few moments just to peer out the window. In the purple glow from the sunset, I saw something that caught my attention.

There was a man out there, standing upright but swaying slowly side-to-side. Now, I would have been suspicious that this was something unnatural, considering how many times the woods had messed with both our minds, but I recognized him. He worked for a service that brought groceries to the station twice a week

He was facing away from me, staring off into the woods. I watched him intently, hoping he didn’t take another step. Those last words Jennifer’s boyfriend had sent to Evelyn’s messenger rang again in my mind - They all die on that mountain.

Every. Single. One.

In hindsight, I did the stupidest thing I ever could have done. I went out there. The thing is, I knew it was a bad idea, but three people had died in the woods in a matter of days, maybe even hours. I didn’t want to witness one more person getting lost and being pulled out in a body bag. I abandoned the broadcast room, running down that long, winding staircase to the exit. It was almost impossible to see it, but a very dim shimmer from the outdoor light led me there.

When I whipped open the door and ran outside to tell the man to come back, I saw only one of his feet as he stepped into the darkness between the trees, already pushing his way through the brush. I was a bit foolish, but I wouldn’t say I’m stupid. I didn’t follow him into the woods. I yelled at him to come back but he didn’t even seem to register that I was there. Instead, my eyes dropped to the ground, where I saw he had dropped a cardboard box. Why would he make a delivery this late at night?

As I stooped to pick it up, I heard the crunch of branches and the rustle of leaves. I thought it was him, turning back around, realizing his mistake. It wasn’t the grocery guy. It was something so much fucking worse.

I saw Jennifer walking out of the woods and making a path towards me. Only, I’m not sure ‘walking’ was the right word. Her neck was broken, her back was twisted, and her legs were snapped in directions that made my skin crawl just hearing the sounds her bones made as she moved. One arm was twisted backwards at the shoulder, wrist dangling so loosely I thought it might fall right off. She shambled towards me, putting weight on whatever parts of her legs would support her, but she looked like a dirt-covered marionette being operated by a puppeteer that had no idea what they were doing. There were twigs, dead leaves, and bits of long grass sticking out of her hair and stuffed into her open mouth. The sound she made was unnatural, like breathless gasping mixed with these low, guttural groans. I couldn’t even tell if she was looking at me. Her eyes were milky white and her head rolled back and forth loosely on her snapped neck.

Without even thinking, I abandoned the box on the ground. Whatever was in there didn’t mean a goddamn thing anymore. I ran back to the bottom of the tower, practically throwing myself back into the building before slamming the door behind me and locking it as fast as I could. I peered out the window. It was a mistake. Jennifer was inches away from the door, her head snapped back to the front so that her face was right there in front of me. I don’t know how she got there so quickly and I honestly don’t give a fuck. In that moment, all I wanted was to get as far away as I could. I ran up the staircase, pure fear and adrenaline pushing me to the top without so much as a second to pause.

I didn’t care about the grocery guy anymore. Just being locked into the broadcast room was all I wanted, that and the comforting sunlight. It was still so many, many hours from morning. I locked myself in, getting as far away from the door as I could, avoiding the window for fear that I’d see her shambling up the fire escape. Her face … I can’t get her face out of my head.

It’s almost midnight as I write this. I just got a call on my cell phone, and I’ve never been so relieved to hear someone else’s voice. When I picked it up, I would have been happy for anyone to answer me, just another living, breathing human being to talk to.

“…Daniel? Are you there?”

My heart skipped a beat. It was Evelyn. She sounded tired, but it was her voice without a single doubt.

“Where are you?” I asked her, skipping all pleasantries. I think she heard the panic when I spoke. “Please, please, please tell me you’re not in jail.”

“They didn’t arrest me. I think they wanted to find a reason to, but … I’m coming back. I’ll be there before six, that's all I can promise. I’ll catch you up to speed when I see you.” She must have heard me let out the biggest sigh of breath, because her next words sounded concerned. “Dan, what’s wrong?”

“I’m fine” It was a lie, but my nerves weren’t ready to have that discussion. “Just … be careful. Get here safe.”

“I will.” She agreed softly, but I could tell she didn’t call just to tell me she was alive and returning. “There’s a storm coming tomorrow. A really, really shitty one. High winds, lightning … power outages, maybe.”

She didn’t need to explain why that was reason to worry. There was impossible pressure keeping control of this place, and still I didn’t even know why this radio station was the center of every weird thing happening in these mountains. All of a sudden, I had a feeling that I hadn’t really noticed until just now. I realized just how much this job and this place had changed my life.

“Evelyn?”

“Yes?”

I spared a glance to the window, relieved but surprised that Jennifer wasn’t there. However, I did see a small, unnerving sight. Twigs, long grass, and bits of dead leaves and hair littered the top of the stairwell, making a path down the steps. How long was she standing there before she disappeared?

“Soon as we get a couple more part-timers, we’re taking a vacation.”

This is Daniel with 104.6 F.M., and I’ve never been so eager for an early morning in my life.

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